The night before my trip to Instituto Inhotim, I flew into Belo Horizonte, the nearest city in the southeastern region of Brazil known as Minas Gerais. The next morning’s journey southward began on a big highway that led to small windy, dusty streets through the town of Brumadinho, to the gates of a former farm now home to Brazil’s largest contemporary art sculpture park-cum-botanical garden. Although normally packed with visitors on the weekends, Inhotim was quiet—it was Mother’s Day. Good for me because there was lots to see. I met my guide Juliana at the visitors center just before 10 AM with the stated desire to see everything. She looked doubtful, but we would try. We set off with a quick pace over a small bridge on a green lake dotted with white swans. I’m not too familiar with the indigenous natural landscape of Brazil (it was only my second trip), but as much as it was beautiful, I could tell this was likely not natural. Indeed, nothing about Inhotim is quite natural, and that is just the beauty of it.
I asked Juliana to show me work by Brazilian artists given the nature of my trip: to research contemporary art from Brazil. Was I also curious about Doug Aitken and Matthew Barney? Sure, we would hope to catch a ride on a golf buggy out to their pavilions after lunch. That morning, we walked on the broken glass of Cildo Meireles’ Através installation, we lounged on futons and swung in hammocks in Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococas installations. Oiticica and D’Almeida’s pavilion housed one of two pools at Inhotim, the other a work by Argentinian artist Jorge Macchi, sunk deep into the ground but perfectly level. Based on the artist’s quick sketch of an alphabetized address book turned into three dimensions and filled with water, Piscina made me wish I had my bathing suit, and more time.
Water. It was an emerging theme. With that, I suddenly noticed the ubiquitous sprinkler systems through the park, keeping the thousands of palm trees, and various tropical looking plants alive. Thirsty myself, we stopped for an aqua de coco near Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Palm Pavilion. Across the way, a new project by Brazilian artist Marilá Dardot invited visitors to plant seeds into pots in the shapes of letters. One visitor had spelled out TUDO AMOR PODE: love conquers all. No time to plant for me, a different breed of optimism was up the road, Chris Burden’s Beam Drop: some 40 or 50 I-beams dropped into a deep, deep hole of wet cement and left to dry in the Brazilian sun. It’s as permanent as any art will ever be.
We weaved our way back down the side of Burden’s hill and whizzed through a few temporary exhibitions including work by Susan Hiller, Diango Hernandez, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Laura Vinci. I met one of Inhotim’s curators, Rodrigo Moura, for a delicious lunch of fresh vegetables and meats prepared in a contemporary Brazilian style, at one of the park’s many places to eat. One day, Inhotim, the brainchild of founder and owner Bernardo Paz, will boast hotels and a couple thousand more works of art to match its 1,000 employees. For the curious, check out an upcoming Carnegie Museum of Art exhibition conceived by Ray Ryan, our curator of architecture, opening September 2012: White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes. Inhotim is one of six sites and institutions featured in this exhibition about new experiences in culture and nature.